Vice President Joe Biden has a well-earned reputation as an “iron pants” negotiator whose never-say-die style served him well for decades in the Senate.
With unwavering good cheer, a toothy smile and a willingness to spend hours, if not days, at the bargaining table, the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and ranking member helped the Carter administration shepherd through the SALT II nuclear weapons treaty in the late 1970s, forged an agreement on landmark crime legislation in 1994, and matched wits with Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the storied arch conservative, to win approval of a chemical weapons treaty in the late 1990s.
Now Biden has received another daunting assignment – this time to oversee the work of a seven-member task force appointed by Obama to try to negotiate the framework for major deficit reduction and entitlement and tax reform in the coming years – which will severely test his negotiating skills
Biden showed his stuff last December when he pulled Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aside and negotiated a major agreement between the White House and congressional GOP leaders on tax cut extensions, unemployment insurance and additional economic stimulus spending. But whether he will succeed in finding common ground with the Republicans on some of the most controversial budget and social policy issues remains to be seen.
“His whole career he’s been adept at bringing people together of disparate views,” said former Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., who served as Biden’s chief of staff during most of Biden’s Senate career and succeeded him in the Senate after Biden was elected President Obama’s vice president. “He has an incredible ability to sit forever and to see ‘how can we make this work. Let’s try this and let’s try that.’”
economic condition they have created to blame
the victim – whether it’s organized labor or
ordinary middle-class men and women. It’s bizarre.”
Moreover, Biden’s well known outspokenness and tendency to shoot from the hip may not necessarily play well in tense budget talks with huge political implications. During a March Democratic fundraiser in Philadelphia, Biden said: “It’s amazing how these Republicans, the right wing of this party – whose philosophy threw us into this God-awful hole we’re in, gave us the tremendous deficits we’ve inherited. They’re now attempting to use the very economic condition they have created to blame the victim – whether it’s organized labor or ordinary middle-class working men and women. It’s bizarre. It’s bizarre.”
At a Cleveland Democratic fundraiser last week for Sen. Sherrod Brown, Biden said: "I hope a lot of you are benefiting from the top one percent of the Bush tax cuts. I sincerely mean that. I hope you are in a position to benefit. But those tax cuts for the next 10 years, every year, are going to cost us $500 billion a year."
“Biden is very well situated to find the sweet spot, if one exists,” said veteran political analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “The question is whether there is any possibility of a deal out of that group.”
Biden could not be reached for comment for this article.
Obama assigned Biden to head up the task force after the president outlined his long-term proposals earlier this month for reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over the next dozen years. The negotiators were given until late June to report back with recommendations. Their first meeting is scheduled May 5.
The bipartisan group includes: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
about the task force, including how many
people should have seats at the table.
Cantor and Kyl are better known for their partisanship than their bargaining skills. Already the Republicans have complained about the task force, including how many people should have seats at the table and whether it even makes sense to meet.
"I'm at a loss to understand what the purpose is," Cantor recently told The Washington Post. He said Obama had not set a firm timeline for any decisions, although lawmakers from both parties are calling for some agreement on deficit reduction before the government reaches a debt limit in the coming months on how much money it can borrow.